When you bring home a guinea pig, you’ll spend more time thinking about their teeth than you ever imagined. These buck-toothed rodents have lots of dental needs and often use their chompers to communicate as well. They don’t seem to mimic us in this department though (sadly, you won’t see a happy piggy smile), which means you’ll have to spend some time studying your piggie to decipher her mouth movements. Oral health can also indicate bigger issues and so you should keep a close eye on those pearly whites when you hear her grind, chatter, bare, or click her little tusks. So why do guinea pigs chatter their teeth? There are a few reasons, but none of them are particularly good.
Guinea pigs make more than 10 different noises, like wheeking and chirping. Each signals something unique, so start to pay close attention to exactly what your animal does with her mouth. When it comes to her teeth, she’ll show you she’s frustrated or hurt with three special sounds. Here’s how to tell them apart.
You may hear a hiss-like noise come from your cavy, just like a cat, and it says something similar too. Usually, this means “leave me alone” or “I’m annoyed.” You should treat it as a sign to give your pet a little space. She could be sick of playing but have no other way to communicate her frustrations (unfortunately, she likely won’t come out and tell you plainly). Don’t go away forever though – these little guys have short memories and she’ll want you back at her side in no time. But do take it as a serious sign of discomfort. In fact, sometimes the hiss precedes a bite, so try to get yourself clear quickly before she makes a lunge for you.
Persistent teeth grinding typically has a physical cause rather than an emotional one, and a trip to the vet may be in order. Sometimes guineas grind their teeth when in pain, just as you might grit yours when ripping off a Band-Aid. As prey animals, they’re designed to hide injury and illness, so a small sign like this could be all you get to determine that something is up. Alternatively, it might be her teeth themselves that are causing the issue. Remember, many small pets have fangs that never stop growing and frequently need attention. Have your animal doctor give her a full dental work up to spot any issues quickly and correct them in time. If that’s not the problem, the grinding likely signals frustration, similar to the hiss.
You will most commonly see this sign when you introduce a new pet into the home and your original inhabitant feels the need to give a display of dominance. Unfortunately, a fight might be brewing, and you should separate the pair while they both calm down, then try again. Always carefully add a new member to the group with lots of check-ins along the way. If no new piggies have joined and yours distinctly makes this noise, you might be the problem (don’t take it personally). Typically, you’ll want to back off and return her to the cage, though sometimes you’ll get a teeth-chatter when you’re in the middle of something annoying yet essential, such as grooming. Lastly, if you have any brand-new babies in the house, Mama will definitely bare and chatter her teeth at you – wouldn’t you if a giant predator approached? Steer clear when she does. Trust us, she means business.
While teeth chattering certainly can mean that your guinea pig needs a vet, not all dental communication is equal. Try to figure out first which type you see and what it seems to respond to. Oftentimes, you can figure out pretty quickly what’s upsetting your piggie just by looking at her surroundings and stimuli. Even if no chattering occurs, you need to consistently check her teeth and provide extra hay so that she naturally grinds them down to the proper size. That will head off most mouth issues at the pass. Lastly, if you hear constant teeth chattering and fighting between two specific animals, it could be time to separate them. Think about setting up different cage spaces for the instigators so no one gets hurt – and you get some peace and quiet.
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